And Then There's This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture
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Breaking news, fresh gossip, tiny scandals, trumped-up crises-every day we are distracted by a culture that rings our doorbell and runs away. Stories spread wildly and die out in mere days, to be replaced by still more stories with ever shorter life spans. Through the Internet the news cycle has been set spinning even faster now that all of us can join the fray: anyone on a computer can spread a story almost as easily as The New York Times, CNN, or People. As media amateurs grow their audience, they learn to think like the pros, using the abundant data that the Internet offers-hit counters, most e-mailed lists, YouTube views, download tallies-to hone their own experiments in viral blowup.
And Then There's This is Bill Wasik's journey along the unexplored frontier of the twenty-first century's rambunctious new-media culture. He covers this world in part as a journalist, following "buzz bands" as they rise and fall in the online music scene, visiting with viral marketers and political trendsetters and online provocateurs. But he also wades in as a participant, conducting his own hilarious experiments: an e-mail fad (which turned into the worldwide "flash mob" sensation), a viral website in a month-long competition, a fake blog that attempts to create "antibuzz," and more. He doesn't always get the results he expected, but he tries to make sense of his data by surveying what real social science experiments have taught us about the effects of distraction, stimulation, and crowd behavior on the human mind. Part report, part memoir, part manifesto, part deconstruction of a decade, And Then There's This captures better than any other book the way technology is changing our culture.
(or, more precisely, anti-right-wing) sentiments, a winning entry would have to dip at least a toe in that particular pool. Second—and here was where things got a bit more complicated—the entry would eventually need to break out of its primary audience in order to truly blow up. It would need, that is, to show some crossover potential, so it could speak to a larger audience when the time came. The history of the competition was littered with third- or fifth-place finishers that had ignited the
all over my fucking car,’ excuse my language. There is a debate; there is an argument. And where you have an argument, you have people talking. And where you have people talking, you have people posting and people sending stuff around and [pop!]”—here he snapped his fingers—“that’s paydirt.” Having read all the chatter online about the ad myself, though, I was sure that buying a Ford had been the last thing on the minds of anyone—even the ad’s defenders. The problem with this spot was similar,
even choose the announcement in November 2006, just as the 2008 presidential campaign was beginning, that John Harris himself—coauthor of The Way to Win and, as national political editor of the Washington Post, a comfortably ensconced Washington-media insider—was leaving the Post to head a start-up politics publication, which would publish on paper three days a week in D.C. proper but whose primary audience would be online. Leaving the Post along with Harris was Jim VandeHei, one of the paper’s
expected—was hardly the portrait of a starry-eyed amateur: a technology consultant at Blue State Digital, a prominent Democratic web-strategy firm, de Vellis had previously served as the Internet communications director for the successful 2006 Senate bid of Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). To those who followed that race closely, de Vellis was notorious as a classic Internet-era political operative. He had been widely suspected of planting abusive pro-Brown propaganda in the comments boards of sites
ruthlessly as it can. Some brains are more susceptible than others to certain memes, but by and large memes spread by virtue of their own inherent contagiousness. The meme idea, that is, sees cultural entities as being similar to genes, or better, to viruses, and in fact the term “viral” is often used to express the same idea. If we consider the meme idea itself as a meme, we see that its virulence in the Internet era has been impressive. The term was coined in 1976 by the biologist Richard